The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)
Getting Ready for Camp
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There are currently dance camps scheduled around all the major holiday weekends, several on shorter two-day weekends, plus some five-day and full-week extravaganzas that include tours of the environs. If you're a camp-aholic with unlimited funds and want to hit them all, large and small, in the United States, Europe, Australia, and South America, you can attend over a dozen camps a year. On the major holidays, you'll have to choose between several camps.
Although this article is written with the new dancer who is attending his/her first camp in mind, even veterans of many dance camps will find a useful tip or reminder here. While most dance camp managers send a list of reminders to participants shortly before the camp begins, that list rarely addresses more than the logistics and schedule of that particular camp. This article is more general and will address both physical and emotional concerns.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY
Even if you're accustomed to dancing several nights a week on your home turf, dance camps will put some stress on your muscles. You'll be dancing day and night, so pace yourself. Take time to stetch and warm up for workshops. Rest between the sessions and elevate your feet and legs. Take a nap if there is time. Drink lots of water to keep your body hydrated and your muscles from cramping.
The floors you dance on at camp may range from an outdoor cement patio to a wooden floor, and you're going to be on your feet many more hours at a stretch. If you're one of the rare dancers who still dances barefooted, take along comfortable shoes or sandals. The additional wear and tear on the soles of your feet will have you suffering very quickly. You'll be glad you have shoees if the alternative is sitting on the sidelines with feet too sore to dance on.
If you normally wear shoes, take more than one pair and take lots of socks so you don't wind up with blisters at the end of the second day. Something as simple as changing shoes and socks can revive you enough to give you another couple of hours of dancing. Varying between no heels, low heels, and high heels, as well as open-toed and close-toed shoes changes your balance, the muscles you use to move, and the stress points on your feet.
Also be prepared for more than just dancing. There may be a fancy banquet or evening party and camp custom dictates something other than shorsts and a T-shirt. You may need to dress minimally for the beach or swimming pool, but need several warm layers for a cool night by the campfire. Your non-dancing friends may laugh at a hugh suitcase for casual three-day dance camp, but you've got to be prepared for a lot of different environments.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
Yes, you paid for the camp, and that probably includes all your meals, but you should still take your wallet. The camp and the teachers/choreographers usually have T-shirts for sale, along with CDs, a syllabus of dance notes, and video tapes. A few camps invite local artists to display jewelry, clothing, and other dance-related items. Some camps now have a masseuse on the staff and, after two solid days of dancing, a massage feels terrific. Even if all meals are provided, you may need to drive to the nearest store for emergency pain pills, an elastic bandage, or your favorite junk food or drink. And cash is preferred, since it's a hassle for the out-of-country visitors to cash checks.
GETTING FROM HERE TO THERE TO YONDER
This may seem minor because most camps are self-contained, with dancing-eating-sleeping areas in close enough proximity to walk, but ask just be certain. There are stories about the Dance-Camp-From-Hell where a couple visiting from out-of-the-area was graciously picked up at the airport by a member of the camp's staff and driven to their hotel which was three miles from the dance hall. No arrangements had been made to get the couple to the workshops.
WHEN IN ROME, DO AS THE ROMANS
You are probably aware that there are some pieces of music to which more than one dance was choreographed. You may be aware that there are dances that were taught by a choreographer one way, and then "amended" and taught a different way at another time-location. Those dances probably won't surprise you. But you will also find at a dance camp that, for example, a dance you're used to doing with a shoulder hold, the locals dance with joined hands held down. Even if you learned the dance from the choreographer and are certain that you do the dance correctly, don't make waves. It's just a dance, and Western Civilization will not come to an end if there differences of opinion about how Counts 4-8 of Part A, Section 2, are done.
You'll be learning five to eight dances a day which comes to fifteen to twenty-five dances a weekend dance camp. Don't expect too much from yourself. Unless you have an extraordinary memory, by the end of the camp your brain will be awash with a bewildering jumble of melodies, lyrics, names, and dance steps.
Unless you are a teacher or you are the only one from your area attending the camp and you are expected to teach the dances upon your return, you don't need to master all the dances during camp. That's the job of your local teachers (who are also probably at the camp). Observe the styling and learn what you can. Your local teachers will teach the dances again on your home turf. Pace yourself mentally as well as physically and be content to come away knowing the names, steps, and music to your two to three favorites.
Also accept the fact that, although you may think that all fifteen dances presented are works of art and should go down in Dance History as classics, they aren't all going to be accepted by the dance community that didn't attend the camp. Even though your local teachers reteach all fifteen dances, not all will be liked or accepted. The cold hard facts are that, a year after a camp, only four or five dances will have survived. In five years, you'll still be dancing one, possibly two, of the dances.
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
If you attend a dance camp that is not in your area, and nobody from your area is going with you, be prepared for some feelings of loneliness, isolation, and rejection. No matter what the brochure says about a friendly and warm atmosphere, let's face facts: people who dance together tend to socialize and eat together as well. You may get a terrific roommate who will walk with you between acitivities, but you cannot count on it.
Besides not having a partner you're used to for the couple dances, you'll be breaking into lines and circles and holding hands with strangers who won't automatically make eye contact with you, or say hello, or squeeze your hand in greeting. Accept the fact that you'll be introducing yourself at communal meals and gatherings, and you'll have to join established groups around campfires, swimming pools, and snack tables. Smile, keep your chin up, try to make leye contact, and be receptive. Ask questions and get the locals talking about their dance classes and teachers, and you may find the questions being reciprocated.
And now that you locals have read that last paragraph, be aware that you have visitors in your midst and don't lock the door of your clique and turn all eyes inward. The reputation of your dance class or camp is dependent on how well you treat your guests. Besides, you may be a visitor at a camp yourself someday.
Finally, enjoy yourself! You're lucky to be part of a vibrant and thriving dance community that promotes physical well being and spiritual joy through movement to music. Just think: you could be on a business trip, sitting all day in a stuffy conference room listening to a lecture on the advantages of an accrual accounting system!
Used with permission of the author.
Printed in Let's Dance!, May/June 2007.
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